This morning’s mission was to survey the north of the New Forest for Raven territories, and also to keep an eye out for any Red Kites and Goshawks. I chose a prominent watchpoint with a fantastic 360o view, looking as far south as Lyndhurst, as far east as Toot Hill, and with distant views north into Wiltshire. The weather was perfect, a mix of sunshine and light cloud, with a moderate westerly breeze to encourage large birds into the air.
I arrived on site at 0815 hrs, and enjoyed a fantastic two-and-a-half hours before leaving at 1045 hrs. I’ve listed the key sightings below in chronological order - many people ask if it’s boring just standing in one place for long periods, but I think this demonstrates that it can be quite lively!
0815: Almost the first bird seen is an adult Peregrine heading west; there is a constant backdrop of singing and ‘chatting’ Stonechats on nearby gorse
0820: An immature Goshawk displays over a nearby conifer wood
0830: At least eight Buzzards are in the air simultaneously; with a minimum of ten and possibly double that seen throughout the morning
0835: A pair of Red Kites is seen distantly to northeast (outside the National Park boundary)
0840: While watching (and hearing) a displaying Woodlark nearby, an adult male Goshawk is seen in the background diving into a block of woodland!
0850: Four Ravens are observed tumbling and chasing each other at 4 km range for several minutes, over a stand of large conifers that look like suitable nesting habitat;
0855: A single Raven heading northwest tumbles briefly and lands in another stand of large conifers that also looks like suitable nesting habitat!
0900: The immature Goshawk seen earlier is back up again and is in the air until 0930, and is joined briefly by a second immature bird at 0915, with both seen displaying
0905: A Red Kite heads southwest towards the central New Forest, passing about 500 m away from the watchpoint; in the background, I see the adult male Goshawk seen earlier in display flight
0920: A pair and then all four Ravens are again seen at the same location as the 0850 sighting
0940: A Red Kite is seen to the northeast, within the National Park boundary; ten minutes later it is joined by a second bird, they then indulge in an energetic and spectacular bout of aerial chasing and sparring for several minutes, with deep exaggerated wingbeats – this is classic courtship behaviour and is highly encouraging!
1010: The single Raven is again seen landing in the same conifers as the 0855 sighting; a second displaying Woodlark is also noted
1025: Two Red Kites again seen distantly to the north, close to the National Park boundary
1030: The adult male Goshawk seen earlier joins three Buzzards in the air
It’s worth saying that many of the above sightings were of birds at long range (i.e. several kilometres), with very few being visible with the naked eye. Using modern, high-quality 12x50 binoculars and a 30x80 telescope provides a very long reach, and with practise it’s possible to confidently identify large birds at least 5 km away. The image of the Goshawk below is of the displaying immature seen from 0900-0930, and shows the distinctive silhouette even at several hundred metres range.
The final total for the morning comprised absolute minima of one Peregrine, three Red Kites, three Goshawks, five Ravens and ten Buzzards, as well as Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. A trickle of northbound migrant Meadow Pipits and Pied/White Wagtails was also noted.
It was great to find two potential new Raven territories and I will follow these up in the coming days. Interestingly, when I processed the raw image of the passing Red Kite seen at 0905, it looks as though there may be a couple of orange wing tags, but it was just too far away to be sure (see image below). It was also fantastic to see a pair of Red Kites exhibiting courtship behaviour within the National Park, and these will again be a target for further fieldwork this spring to try and prove the first successful breeding in the modern era within the New Forest. Watch this space!